Failure to Manage our Time is a Modern Ailment
Feeling like there are not enough hours in the day can be a major constraint for most business analysts. But what is the answer? Delegate more? Sleep less? Become more efficient? There are plenty of answers that crop up but successfully managing your time when there are so many pulls on that time takes steely determination. How many of us are strong enough to switch off our phones and ignore our emails, even for just a couple of hours a day? And yet that simple exercise could help us reduce the time pressures we are under.
So instead of letting a lack of time overwhelm you, try some of the following tactics to help you become a more organised, more efficient and less stressed business analyst:
1. Focus on the Priorities
A list of tasks or a project schedule without any meaningful priorities attached to each activity and any dependencies between tasks recorded is of little use to anyone. After all what happens when further tasks need to be added; they clearly can’t just be tacked on at the end of the list, especially if there are inter-dependencies.
You may think you do have a prioritised task list, but projects are constantly changing, so your priorities will have to as well. Business analysis and project management are inextricably tied up with change management so changes need to be embraced, whilst at the same time controlled so accept that priorities will change.
Review the priorities regularly (the most appropriate time period will depend on the size and complexity of the project you are currently working on) and be prepared to drop one task in favour of another. However, take the time to really determine what the priorities are; the person shouting the loudest does not necessarily have the most important requirements.
This is fairly obvious but many of us are still bad at delegation, but don’t try and do everything yourself; others in the project team may actually relish the opportunity to take on responsibility for running a meeting or preparing documentation – after all, it is all good experience that will help them develop their own careers. Concentrate on what you are good at not the minutiae of administration. If you are lucky enough to have a Project Management Office (PMO) then make use of them, that’s what they are there for.
3. Time Box
Allocate time limits for everything from meetings to producing specifications and reviewing documentation and any of the other regular activities you engage in. Meetings, in particular can eat into your time and often with little gain compared to the time expended. By limiting every meeting to an hour or two (or whatever is appropriate for the topic to be discussed) you will ensure everyone present focuses on that topic and does not use the meeting as an opportunity to bring up their latest gripe.
For short, regular meetings, such as status updates, hold a “stand-up” meeting in a room without any chairs. You will be surprised at how quickly and efficiently everyone will discuss what they need to when they can’t sit down (and did you know that standing up is actually good for your health!).
4. Put it in Black & White
Daily or weekly To-Do lists and notes of ideas and inspiration can help clarify your thoughts and objectives so you focus your efforts on what really matters. You can jot things down in a notebook or use a spreadsheet or one of the many apps available for your phone, whatever method you prefer. Treat your notes as an aide-memoir – they are not meant to be a detailed task list or a detailed solution to a problem. And there is something very satisfying about crossing things off a list once they are done.
5. Technology-free Time
I remember a time when everyone thought technology was going to give us lots of spare time, and it does in many situations, but there are other ways in which it eats into our time. Reading emails that we are copied into when really we are not required to join in the discussion, reading the daily newsletters and updates that populate our inboxes; being active on social media networks.
Start to regain some of that time by unsubscribing from all but the essential email lists you are on – with the time you will save you can schedule time to catch up with your favourite sites without all the unnecessary emails clogging up your inbox.
Once you have cleaned up what you receive, set aside a specific time each day or week to ignore your emails – don’t be shocked, in fact, you may be surprised how even “important” emails resolve themselves if you don’t respond, after all what would happen if you were on holiday or in hospital, someone would have to sort out any problems. And if you are worried that you will lose some authority by not instantly responding to emails then your career is built on flimsy foundations anyway.
And as for social media, there are extremely useful tools out there just make sure the benefits you gain from their use outweigh the time invested. And, again, schedule time in your day when you use it rather than constantly checking for updates or constantly posting updates. A well-thought out post/share once a day is just as valuable as constant activity that says little of value.
6. Sit Back and Think
Instead of lurching from task to task or crisis to crisis take a step back from the “doing” and try some thinking – think about what is really important for the success of your current project and your long-term career. Taking the time to think through a problem, rather than rushing into activity, so that it looks like you are resolving the problem, can actually help you to deliver a better solution. Often too little time is spent thinking or planning because this is not perceived as “real” work when, in fact, it is the thinking time that will produce the best results.
These are just some strategies that business analysts can try in order to regain some time and some order in their lives. In the meantime I am going to try and take my own advice…
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